House rules time served on remand must be shaved off jail term

A view of the wall and main gate at Her Majesty's Prison in St John's. (File photo/OBSERVER media)

ST JOHN’S, Antigua – A number of convicted criminals serving jail sentences may soon be released as the Lower House yesterday approved a Bill which seeks to ensure any time spent on remand prior to conviction, would be shaved off the sentence being served.

Although magistrates and judges have usually practised this, it was not used in all instances and was not mandated in law.

Under the proposed Criminal Procedure amendment Bill 2014, which now has to go to the Senate for approval, all convicts from as far back as January 31, 2003, and going forward, would have the time spent on remand awaiting committal, trial and/or sentencing, discounted from the jail sentence imposed by the court.

Mover of the Bill, Attorney General Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, said that date was selected following research of sentences convicts are serving at the jail where the time on remand was not considered.

“There are instances where persons are kept in custody in Her Majesty’s Prison for a very long period of time and it is not considered … even though the CCJ has made it a rule and we have adopted the practice, there has never been anything written in law that make it mandatory.”

The proposed legislation states that “it is immaterial whether for all or part of the time during which he’s remanded into custody, the person was also remanded into custody in connection with other offences.”

Meanwhile, the Lower House also amended the Misuse of Drugs Act, which once again gives magistrates power to conduct trials in drug cases involving five kilograms or less of illegal drugs.

This amendment seeks to repeal a 2008 amendment, which requires drug cases involving over two kilograms of illegal substances to be sent to the High Court for trial.

Benjamin said the rationale is to speed up the prosecution process and ease the burden on the judiciary as up to about 60 such cases are now pending.

(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)